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United States Patent Application 20180142246
Kind Code A1
Spetz Holmgren; Anna-Lena ;   et al. May 24, 2018

Single-Stranded Oligonucleotides for Use in the Medical Treatment of Skin Disorders

Abstract

The invention relates to non-CpG single-stranded oligonucleotides (ssONs) for use in the treatment or prophylaxis of disorders of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue, including pruritus, in a suitable formulation or in combination with other immunomodulatory treatments. The said ssONs have a length of at least 25 nucleotides and are stabilized by phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages and/or 2'-O-Methyl modifications.


Inventors: Spetz Holmgren; Anna-Lena; (Bromma, SE) ; Jarver; Peter; (Stockholm, SE) ; Skold; Annette; (Sundsvall, SE)
Applicant:
Name City State Country Type

Spetz Holmgren; Anna-Lena
Jarver; Peter
Skold; Annette

Bromma
Stockholm
Sundsvall

SE
SE
SE
Family ID: 1000003138821
Appl. No.: 15/736020
Filed: June 14, 2016
PCT Filed: June 14, 2016
PCT NO: PCT/EP2016/063596
371 Date: December 13, 2017


Current U.S. Class: 1/1
Current CPC Class: C12N 15/117 20130101; A61P 17/00 20180101; C12N 2310/315 20130101; C12N 2310/321 20130101; C12N 2310/346 20130101
International Class: C12N 15/117 20060101 C12N015/117; A61P 17/00 20060101 A61P017/00

Foreign Application Data

DateCodeApplication Number
Jun 15, 2015SE1550814-6

Claims



1. A single-stranded oligonucleotide (ssON) for use in the treatment or prophylaxis of a disorder of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue, including pruritus, wherein: (a) the length of the said ssON is at least 25 nucleotides; (b) either (i) at least 90% of the internucleotide linkages in the said ssON are phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages; or (ii) the said ssON comprises at least four phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages and at least four 2'-O-methyl modifications; and (c) the said ssON does not contain any CpG motifs.

2. The ssON for use according to claim 1, wherein the said ssON comprises at least six phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages and at least six 2'-O-methyl modifications.

3. The ssON for use according to claim 1 or 2, wherein all internucleotide linkages in the said ssON are phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages.

4. The ssON for use according to any one of claims 1 to 3, wherein the length of the said ssON is between 25 and 70 nucleotides.

5. The ssON for use according to claim 4, wherein the length of the said ssON is between 25 and 35 nucleotides.

6. The ssON for use according to any one of claims 1 to 5, wherein not more than 16 consecutive nucleotides in the said ssON are complementary with any human mRNA sequence.

7. The ssON for use according to any one of claims 1 to 6, wherein the said ssON is not self-complementary.

8. The ssON for use according to any one of claims 1 to 7, wherein the monosaccharides in the said ssON are chosen from the group consisting of 2'-deoxyribose and 2'-O-methylribose.

9. The ssON for use according to claim 8, wherein said ssON comprises the sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 2, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, or 19.

10. The ssON for use according to any one of claims 1 to 9 wherein the said disorder involves dermatitis and/or eczema.

11. The ssON for use according to any one of claim 10 wherein the said disorder is atopic dermatitis.

12. The ssON for use according to any one of claims 1 to 11 wherein the said disorder involves pruritus.

13. The ssON for use according to any one of claims 1 to 12 wherein an infection is associated with the said disorder of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue.

14. The ssON for use according to any one of claims 1 to 13 wherein the said ssON is used in combination with an anti-inflammatory or anti-pruritus agent.

15. The ssON for use according to any one of claims 1 to 14 in a human subject.

16. A single-stranded oligonucleotide (ssON), wherein said ssON comprises the nucleotide sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 15 or 16; provided that the ssON does not have the sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 2.

17. The ssON according to claim 16 wherein: (a) the length of the said ssON is between 25 and 70 nucleotides; (b) either (i) at least 90% of the internucleotide linkages in the said ssON are phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages; or (ii) the said ssON comprises at least four phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages and at least four 2'-O-methyl modifications; and (c) the said ssON does not contain any CpG motifs.

18. The ssON according to claim 17 wherein the said ssON comprises at least six phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages and at least six 2'-O-methyl modifications.

19. The ssON according to claim 17 or 18 wherein all internucleotide linkages in the said ssON are phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages.

20. The ssON according to claims 16 to 19 wherein the length of the said ssON is between 25 and 35 nucleotides.

21. The ssON according to any one of claims 16 to 20, wherein the monosaccharides in the said ssON are chosen from the group consisting of 2'-deoxyribose and 2'-O-methylribose.

22. The ssON according to any one of claims 16 to 21, wherein said ssON has a nucleotide sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, or 19.

23. The ssON according to any one of claims 16 to 22 for use in therapy.

24. A pharmaceutical composition comprising the ssON according to any one of claims 16 to 22 together with a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier.

25. A method for the treatment or prophylaxis of a disorder of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue, including pruritus; said method comprising administering to a mammal in need of such treatment or prophylaxis an effective amount of an ssON, wherein: (a) the length of the said ssON is at least 25 nucleotides; (b) either (i) at least 90% of the internucleotide linkages in the said ssON are phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages; or (ii) the said ssON comprises at least four phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages and at least four 2'-O-methyl modifications; and (c) the said ssON does not contain any CpG motifs.

26. The method according to claim 25, wherein the said ssON comprises at least six phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages and at least six 2'-O-methyl modifications.

27. The method according to claim 25 or 26, wherein all internucleotide linkages in the said ssON are phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages.

28. The method according to any one of claims 25 to 27, wherein the length of the said ssON is between 25 and 70 nucleotides.

29. The method according to claim 28, wherein the length of the said ssON is between 25 and 35 nucleotides.

30. The method according to any one of claims 25 to 29, wherein not more than 16 consecutive nucleotides in the said ssON are complementary with any human mRNA sequence.

31. The method according to any one of claims 25 to 30, wherein the said ssON is not self-complementary.

32. The method according to any one of claims 25 to 31, wherein the monosaccharides in the said ssON are chosen from the group consisting of 2'-deoxyribose and 2'-O-methylribose.

33. The method according to any one of claims 25 to 32, wherein said ssON comprises the sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 2, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, or 19.

34. The method according to any one of claims 25 to 33, wherein the said disorder involves dermatitis and/or eczema.

35. The method according to claim 34 wherein the said disorder of the skin is atopic dermatitis.

36. The method according to any one of claims 25 to 35 wherein the said disorder involves pruritus.

37. The method according to any one of claims 25 to 36 wherein an infection is associated with the said disorder of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue.

38. The method according to any one of claims 25 to 37 wherein the said ssON is administered in combination with an anti-inflammatory agent or anti-pruritus agent.

39. The method according to any one of claims 25 to 38 wherein the mammal is a human.
Description



TECHNICAL FIELD

[0001] The invention relates to non-CpG single-stranded oligonucleotides (ssONs) for use in the treatment or prophylaxis of disorders of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue, including pruritus. The said ssONs have a length of at least 25 nucleotides and are stabilized by phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages and/or 2'-O-Methyl modifications.

BACKGROUND ART

[0002] Skin is the largest organ of the human body. It serves as a barrier to protect against infection, toxins, microbes, and radiation. Disorders of skin not only compromise these functions, but also cause significantly psychological, social, and occupational problems. A significant portion of the world's population is afflicted with skin problems. Disorders of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue are coded in ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems--10.sup.th Revision), Chapter XII, and includes e.g. atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, rosacea, acne, pityriasis rosea, urticaria, erythema, and pruritus. These disorders account for a large portion of annual healthcare costs, in addition to non-financial costs, such as intractable itching, sleep deprivation, psychiatric co-morbidities time spent in treatment, inconvenience, and associated social stigma. Children with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis (AD) consistently rate their condition as having an impact on quality of life that is comparable to insulin-dependent diabetes [1]. There is a need for treatment of skin disorders. Many of these skin disorders are associated with various degree of inflammation and itch. Inflammation is a tightly regulated process aimed to eliminate intruding pathogens and remove damaged cells. The concerted action of professional phagocytes, such as macrophages, monocytes, neutrophils and certain dendritic cells, is essential to effectively clear the site of dying cells and invading pathogens as well as to restore homeostasis [2]. Dendritic cells (DC) are potent antigen presenting cells with capacity to prime naive T cells after uptake of antigens but are also involved in keeping tolerance [3]. The functional outcome of DC action is dictated by differential expression of co-stimulatory receptors and inhibitory receptors as well as patterns of cytokine/chemokine secretion. The healthy human skin harbors at least three DC populations: Langerhans cells (LCs) in the epidermis; and interstitial CD1a.sup.+ and CD14.sup.+ DCs in the dermis [4, 5].

[0003] Oligonucleotides are short DNA or RNA molecules, oligomers, that have a wide range of applications. "CpG oligonucleotides" (or CpG-ssON) are short single-stranded synthetic DNA or RNA molecules that contain a cytosine triphosphate nucleotide ("C") followed by a guanine triphosphate nucleotide ("G"). It is known in the art that CpG-containing nucleic acids stimulate the immune system and can be used to treat infectious diseases, allergy, asthma and other disorders. The CpG sequence in ssDNA-ODN ligands has been shown to be indispensable for activation of Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9), which plays a fundamental role in pathogen recognition and activation of innate immunity. The stimulatory effect of the ligand is lost when the CpG repeats are removed. Consequently, the TLR-mediated immunostimulatory effect has not been shown in single-stranded oligonucleotides lacking CpG motifs ("non-CpG ssON").

[0004] It has been shown that stimulation of the immune system with CpG-containing immunostimulatory motifs leads to induction of pro-inflammatory responses accompanied with induction of IL-10 (see examples in U.S. Pat. No. 7,807,803 B2). The anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 is well known for its contribution in restoration of homeostasis after cellular injury. Numerous studies in mice have shown that IL-10 is important to limit autoimmune pathologies. IL-10 has been attributed many functions including repression of the major pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1, IL-6, IL-12 and TNF-.alpha. as well as chemokines of both the CC and CXC type [6]. The soluble ILT-6, with anti-inflammatory effects was shown to be up-regulated by IL-10 [7]. Even though the anti-inflammatory effects of IL-10 have been known for a long time and many conditions could be improved by inducing IL-10, there have been difficulties with the attempts to develop therapeutics based on the administration of IL-10. Clinical trials in humans using recombinant IL-10 have shown only marginal success [6].

[0005] It has been disclosed (Duffy et al., US2008/0299138 and WO2008/147956; Ranjith-Kumar, C. T. et al. 2008. Molecular and cellular biology 28:4507-4519) that single-stranded DNAs can be used to regulate the inflammatory response through Toll-like receptor 3 (TLR3). It has also been shown by Skold et al. [8] that single-stranded DNA oligonucleotides (ssONs) inhibit TLR3-mediated responses in human monocyte-derived dendritic cells and in vivo in cynomolgus macaques. TLR3 is a key receptor for recognition of double-stranded RNA and initiation of immune responses against viral infections. However, hyperactive responses can have adverse effects, such as virus-induced asthma. It was shown [8] that human monocyte-derived dendritic cells up-regulate maturation markers and secrete proinflammatory cytokines on treatment with the synthetic TLR3 ligand polyinosine-polycytidylic acid (Poly(I:C)). Poly(I:C) is a synthetic agonist to for example TLR3 and is often used as an adjuvant in vaccines [see e.g. ref. 28]. It is also well known that injection of Poly(I:C) leads to an inflammatory response, for example if administered to the skin [10]. It was shown [8] that TLR3-mediated events were inhibited in cultures with CpG ssON. Poly(I:C) activation of non-hematopoietic cells was also inhibited by CpG ssON. The uptake of Poly(I:C) into cells was reduced in the presence of CpG ssON, preventing TLR3 engagement from occurring. In cynomolgus macaques, the levels of proinflammatory cytokines in nasal secretions were reduced when ssONs were administered via the intranasal route. The ssON sequences used by Skold et al. were:

[0006] 5'-GTCGTTTTGTCGTTTTGTCGTTGTTGGTGGTGGTG-3'

[0007] (CpG ssON; SEQ ID NO: 1); and

[0008] 5'-GAAGTTTTGAGGTTTTGAAGTTGTTGGTGGTGGTG-3'

[0009] (non-CpG ssON; SEQ ID NO: 2).

[0010] Today's treatment of inflammatory skin disorders often includes immunosuppressive treatments such as corticosteroids and calcineurin inhibitors [9] and is often accompanied with subsequent infections of the skin due to barrier defects and nonfunctional immune defenses. In addition, prolonged treatment with corticosteroids are associated with well know toxic side effects. The pathogenesis of skin disorders, such as for example atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, were suggested to include dysregulated IL-10 production [10-13].

[0011] Many of the skin disorders or pathologies are accompanied by pruritus, a condition involving localized or general itching. A variety of causes for the condition of pruritus are known including external and endogenous causes, localized skin disorders and systemic diseases. Itch can also be produced by a variety of chemical, mechanical, thermal and electrical stimuli [14, 15].

[0012] Generally, options for effectively treating these disorders are limited. Currently available treatment modalities for these pathologies include nonspecific topical agents such as emollients and counterirritants, topical and oral drugs such as steroids, local anesthetics and antihistamines, and physical modalities such as ultraviolet phototherapy and thermal stimulation. Some of these treatments are effective in pruritic conditions of a particular etiology, while others may show general but nonspecific benefit. It is known that many corticosteroids can relieve itch and may be effective in treating some skin disorders. However, prolonged use of such corticosteroids is associated with both cutaneous and systemic toxic side effects and their widespread use is limited without medical supervision. Selenium sulfide, sulfur and salicylic acid or tar shampoo have also been employed to treat these skin conditions. In any event, remission of the pathology or pruritus is often slow and frequently incomplete.

[0013] Nonspecific topical preparations can act as moisturizing lotions or creams or as oil-based ointments that are occlusive and serve to soften dry skin as well as provide a protective layer. While such preparations may have valuable moisturizing and skin softening properties, they also possess undesirable effects in that they generally impart to the skin an uncomfortable feeling of warmth in addition to a sticky, oily, greasy or waxy feel. More importantly, these materials alone have little effect, if any, on reducing itching.

[0014] Hence, today's treatment is not sufficient and there is a need for selective anti-inflammatory compounds that can increase antibacterial defenses and ameliorate itch. There is a need for improved methods for the treatment or prophylaxis of medical conditions such as "disorders of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue" as defined in ICD-10.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0015] FIG. 1: (A) Immature human DCs exposed to 25 .mu.g/ml Poly(I:C), in the presence of 0.2 .mu.M ssON. Expression of co-stimulatory molecules was measured by flow cytometry. Significant differences were measured by one-way ANOVA (****P<0.0001). (B) Immature human DCs exposed to 25 .mu.g/ml Poly(I:C) in the presence of ssON. The inhibition of CD80 and CD86 expression is concentration dependent. Individual data are shown with means .+-.SD. (C) IL-6, IP-10 and IL-1ra was measured in culture supernatants twenty-four hours post-stimulation of DCs (n=6). Significant differences were assessed by non-parametric Kruskal-Wallis test with Dunn's multiple comparisons comparing Poly(I:C) with different concentrations of ssON (*P<0.05, **P<0.01, ***P<0.001).

[0016] FIG. 2: Intradermal injection of dsRNA (Poly(I:C)) induces local inflammation in non-human primates as expected. Number of immune cell populations identified by flow cytometry in (A) epidermal and (B, C) dermal layers. Cells were collected from biopsies, twenty-four hours after injection with either PBS (n=12), Poly(I:C) (n=6) or Poly(I:C)/ssON (n=6). One outlier animal was excluded from results depicted from epidermal cells. Data are shown with means .+-.SEM. Significant differences were assessed by nonparametric Kruskal-Wallis test and Dunn's post-test (*P<0.05, **P<0.01 and ***P<0.001). Different treatment groups were compared using nonparametric Mann-Whitney unpaired test, as indicated (dashed arrows).

[0017] FIG. 3: The ssON treatment dampens expression of several chemokines (A, B) induced by dsRNA in non-human primates and up-regulates inhibitory receptors (C) and antibacterial molecules (D). Relative mRNA expression values obtained from the microarray analyses of individual macaque skin biopsies collected twenty-four hours post-stimulation are shown with means .+-.SEM. Significant differences were assessed by non-parametric Kruskal-Wallis test and Dunn's post-test (*P<0.05, **P<0.01 and ***P<0.001). Different treatment groups were compared using nonparametric Mann-Whitney unpaired test, as indicated (dashed arrows).

[0018] FIG. 4: Relative mRNA expression values obtained from the microarray analyses of macaque skin biopsies for RAX, LRG1 and LCN2 (A) as well as IL-6, IFN-.gamma. and IL-12p40 (B) are shown with means .+-.SEM. Biopsies were collected twenty-four hours after intradermal injections of PBS, Poly(I:C), Poly(I:C)/ssON or ssON. Significant differences were assessed by nonparametric Kruskal-Wallis test and Dunn's post-test (*P<0.05, **P<0.01 and ***P<0.001). Different treatment groups were compared using nonparametric Mann-Whitney unpaired test, as indicated (dashed arrows).

[0019] FIG. 5: The ssON treatment induces IL-10 and dampens IL-6 production in vivo. Concentrations of indicated cytokine proteins present in supernatants of enzymatically digested dermis were measured by Bio-Plex.TM. technology. Data are shown with means .+-.SEM from individual animals. The lower right panel shows a dose escalation experiment with two animals treated with ssON ranging from 85 to 680 .mu.g per injection. Significant differences were assessed by nonparametric Kruskal-Wallis test and Dunn's post-test (*P<0.05, **P<0.01 and ***P<0.001). Different treatment groups were compared using nonparametric Mann-Whitney unpaired test, as indicated (dashed arrows).

[0020] FIG. 6: Poly(I:C) induced maturation of human monocyte-derived DC. Cells treated with 25 .mu.g/ml Poly(I:C) and 0.2 .mu.M ssON, sequences in Table II. 100 ng/ml LPS was used as positive control. All oligonucleotide-treated cells are exposed to 25 .mu.g/ml Poly(I:C). Mature DC markers (CD86, CD83 and CD80) were measured using flow cytometry. Experiments were performed using two donors in duplicate.

[0021] FIG. 7: Inhibitory effects on Poly(I:C) responses of human monocyte-derived DC by PS-ssONs rich in nucleobases A, T, C and G, respectively.

[0022] FIG. 8: Inhibitory effects on Poly(I:C) responses of human monocyte-derived DC by ssONs which were modified with 2'-O-methyl groups. The ssONs had either a phosphorothioate (PS) or a phosphodiester (PO) backbone.

[0023] FIG. 9: Effects of increasing amounts of complementary PO DNA (allowing formation of dsDNA) on DC maturation. FACS data comes from 3 separate donors in duplicate. Error bars are given in SEM.

[0024] FIG. 10: Inhibitory effects on Poly(I:C) responses of human monocyte-derived DC by ssONs of the same length and (PS) backbone but different sequences.

[0025] FIG. 11: Inhibitory effects on Poly(I:C) responses of human monocyte-derived DC by ssONs using a randomly mutated 35 ssON with PS backbone.

[0026] FIG. 12: Inhibitory effects on Poly(I:C) responses of human monocyte-derived DC by ssONs is length dependent. CD86 and IL-6 secretion was measured using ssONs with varying length.

DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0027] As shown in the Examples below, transcriptional profiling of skin biopsies revealed ssON-dependent dampening of dsRNA-induced pro-inflammatory responses in macaques. The ssON-modulated cytokine pattern was confirmed by protein analyses directly ex vivo from skin biopsies and, surprisingly, revealed induction of IL-10 and inhibition of IL-6 secretion. Transcriptional profiling further revealed unexpected increase in expression of antibacterial peptides after treatment with ssON.

[0028] As discussed in the Background Art section, it is known in the art that CpG ssONs are capable of inducing pro-inflammatory responses accompanied with induction of IL-10. It has also been disclosed by Skold et al. [8] that a non-CpG ssON (SEQ ID NO: 2) could inhibit Poly(I:C)-induced production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. However, according to the invention, it was unexpected that non-CpG ssONs are capable inducing IL-10, as well as antibacterial peptides, without concomitant pro-inflammatory responses.

[0029] Consequently, it has surprisingly been shown that ssON (non-CpG) are useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of disorders of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue, including pruritus.

[0030] In a first aspect, this invention provides a single-stranded oligonucleotide (ssON) for use in the treatment or prophylaxis of a disorder of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue, including pruritus; [0031] wherein: [0032] (a) the length of the said ssON is at least 25 nucleotides; [0033] (b) either (i) at least 90% of the internucleotide linkages in the said ssON are phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages; or (ii) the said ssON comprises at least four (preferably at least five or six) phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages and at least four (preferably at least five or six) 2'-O-methyl modifications; and [0034] (c) the said ssON does not contain any CpG motifs.

[0035] The term "disorder of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue" comprises the medical conditions coded in ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10.sup.th revision). Such conditions include e.g. infections of the skin and subcutaneous tissue (e.g. cellulitis); dermatitis and eczema (e.g. atopic dermatitis and/or pruritus); bullous disorders (e.g. pemphigus); papulosquamous disorders (e.g. psoriasis); urticaria and erythema; disorders of skin appendages (e.g. rosacea); or other disorders of the skin and subcutaneous tissue (e.g. lupus erythematosus). These examples are purely illustrative from each category and are not meant to limit the scope of the invention.

[0036] In a preferred aspect, the term "disorder of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue" comprises the medical conditions coded in ICD-10, Chapter XII, L20-L30 "Dermatitis and eczema", such as in particular L20 "Atopic dermatitis" and/or L29 "Pruritus".

[0037] In addition, the ssON is useful when an infection is associated with the said disorder of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue. The infection may be caused by a disrupted skin barrier, the initial treatment, or by changes in the immune system.

[0038] As mentioned above, the length of the ssON is at least 25 nucleotides. More preferably, the length is between 25 and 150; between 25 and 70, between 25 and 50, or between 25 and 35 nucleotides.

[0039] The terms "phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages" and "PS linkages" refer to internucleotide linkages in which one of the non-bridging oxygens in the DNA phosphate (PO) backbone is replaced by sulfur [16]. Preferably 95%, or more preferably 100%, of the internucleotide linkages in the said ssON to be used according to the invention are phosphorothioate (PS) internucleotide linkages. Consequently, the invention includes the use of ssONs wherein some internucleotide linkages (such as one, two, three or more internucleotide linkages) are PO linkages without sulfur, while the remaining linkages are PS linkages. In cases where the ssON comprises phosphate groups in the 5'-terminal and/or 3-terminal, such phosphate groups may be modified (PS) or unmodified (PO) groups.

[0040] The term "2'-O-Methyl modifications" refers to nucleotide modifications wherein a methyl group is added to the 2'-hydroxyl group of the ribose moiety of a nucleoside.

[0041] The ssON to be used according to the invention may comprise additional chemical modifications. Chemically modified oligonucleotides are known in the art and disclosed in e.g. Jaarver, P. et al. 2014. Nucleic acid therapeutics 24:37-47; and Deleavey, G. F. & Damha, M. J. 2012. Chemistry & Biology 19:937-954. Possible chemical modifications include e.g. LNA (Locked Nucleic Acid), wherein the ribose moiety is modified with an extra bridge connecting the 2' oxygen and 4' carbon. Further, the ssON could comprise a mix of ribose and deoxyribose as the five-carbon sugar. In addition, one or more nucleobases in the ssON could be modified. Oligonucleotide base modifications include methylation of cytosine to form 5-methylcytosine, and methylation of adenosine to form N6-methyladenosine.

[0042] The term "CpG motifs" will be understood to refer to immunostimulatory CpG oligonucleotides, i.e. short single-stranded synthetic nucleic acid molecules that contain a cytosine triphosphate deoxynucleotide ("C") followed by a guanine triphosphate deoxynucleotide ("G"). The "p" refers to the phosphodiester or phosphorothioate link between consecutive nucleotides. CpG motifs are considered pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) due to their abundance in microbial genomes but their rarity in vertebrate genomes. The CpG PAMP is recognized by the pattern recognition receptor (PRR) Toll-Like Receptor 9 (TLR9), which is constitutively expressed primarily in B cells and plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) in humans and other higher primates. Consequently, the invention does not include the use of ssONs comprising CpG motifs capable of stimulating a TLR9 response.

[0043] Preferably, the ssON to be used according to the invention has a "sequence independent" mode of action, does not have antisense activity and is not complementary to a gene. More specifically, not more than 16 consecutive nucleotides in the said ssON are complementary with any human mRNA sequence. Consequently, the ssON is essentially "non-complementary" with any human mRNA sequence. The term "non-complementary" will be understood to refer to nucleic acid sequences that are not capable of precise pairing (of purine or pyrimidine bases between the two strands of nucleic acids sequences) under moderate or stringent hybridization conditions (i.e. 5-10.degree. C. below T.sub.m). In particular, the ssON is non-complementary to nucleotide sequences coding for receptor proteins, e.g. Toll-like receptors, such as TLR3 or TLR9, or any other protein which recognize DAMPs (Damage-associated molecular pattern) or PAMPs (Pathogen-associated molecular pattern molecules). It will thus be understood that the ssONs to be used according to the invention are not "antisense" molecules that are complementary to a messenger RNA (mRNA) strand transcribed within a cell.

[0044] A person having ordinary skill in the art will be able to identify oligonucleotide sequences which are "non-complementary" as defined according to the present invention. For instance, the skilled person could use well-known tools such as the BLAST algorithm as implemented online by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information. See e.g. Madden, T. 2013. The BLAST Sequence Analysis Tool. The NCBI Handbook [Internet], 2.sup.nd edition. (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK153387)

[0045] Preferably, the said ssON is not self-complementary. The term "not self-complementary" will be understood to mean that the ssON does not have any self-complementary sequences that would allow two ssONs to dimerize, or that would allow parts of the oligonucleotide to fold and pair with itself to form stem loops. It is well-known that stem loop (also referred to as "hair-pin" loop) base pairing can occur in single-stranded DNA or RNA. It occurs when two regions of the same strand, usually complementary when read in opposite directions, base-pair to form a double helix that ends in an unpaired loop.

[0046] A person having ordinary skill in the art will be able to identify self-complementary sequences by comparing parts of the ssON sequence and detecting whether Watson-Crick base pairing (CG and AT/AU) could occur. Alternatively, a software tool such as Oligo Calc: Oligonucleotide Properties Calculator (www.basic.northwestern.edu/biotools/oligocalc.html) could be used to detect self-complementary sequences. Models for self-dimerization and hairpin formation in oligonucleotides are known in the art and are described in e.g. Hilbers, C. W. 1987. Anal Chem 327:70; Serra, M. J. 1993. Nucleic Acids Res 21:3845-3849; and Vallone, P. M. 1999. Biopolymers. 50:425-442. As a general rule, at least 5 base pairs would be required for self-dimerization, and at least 4 base pairs would be required for hair-pin formation. Consequently, preferably the ssON as defined above does not comprise more than 3 consecutive nucleotides that could form base pairs with another sequence of 3 consecutive nucleotides at the same ssON molecule.

[0047] Preferably, the said ssON is a single-stranded oligodeoxynucleotide (ssODN). However, the invention also provides the use of ssONs that are stabilized single-stranded RNA (ribonucleic acid) molecules. As will be understood by the skilled person, when the ssON is an oligodeoxynucleotide, the monosaccharides in the ssON are 2'-deoxyribose. However, in the present context the term "ssODN" also includes oligonucleotides comprising one or more modified monosaccharides such as 2'-O-methylribose.

[0048] In preferred aspects of the invention, the ssON comprises the sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 2, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, or 19 in the Sequence Listing. More preferably, the ssON has (consists of) the sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 2, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, or 19. In a further preferred aspect of the invention, at least 30% of the nucleobases in the ssON are chosen from A (Adenine) and T (Thymine) and U (Uracil). Preferably, at least 35%, 40%, 45%, 50%, 55%, or 60% of the nucleobases in the ssON are chosen from A, T and U. When the ssON is an oligodeoxynucleotide (ssODN), containing deoxyribose as its pentose component, the nucleobases are normally chosen from A and T. When the ssON is a ribonucleotide containing ribose, the nucleobases are normally chosen from A and U. However, the ssONs according to the invention could include synthetic variants which may differ from naturally occurring oligonucleotides. For instance, the ssON could comprise a deoxyuridine moiety (i.e. uracil bound to deoxyribose). The ssON could also comprise nucleobase analogues, which are well known in the art and include e.g. xanthine, hypoxanthine, 7-methylguanine, 5-methylcytosine, and 5-hydroxymethyl-cytosine.

[0049] The invention provides ssONs as disclosed above for use in the treatment or prophylaxis of medical conditions in mammals, in particular humans, wherein the route of administration is selected from parenteral, intramuscular, subcutaneous, epidermal, intradermal intraperitoneal, intravenous, mucosal delivery, oral, sublingual, dermal, transdermal, topical, inhalation, intranasal, aerosol, intraocular, intratracheal, intrarectal, vaginal, gene gun, dermal patch, eye drop or mouthwash.

[0050] In one aspect, the said ssON can be locally administered to a tissue in an amount of from about 70 .mu.g to about 5 mg/dose, preferably from about 70 .mu.g to about 700 .mu.g/dose. The range 70-700 .mu.g corresponds to about 6-60 nmol ssON and is preferably applied per cm.sup.2 of skin or mucosa. Alternatively, the said ssON can be systemically administered in an amount from 10 .mu.g/kg to 10 mg/kg body weight; preferably from about 10 .mu.g/kg to about 1 mg/kg; more preferably from about 10 .mu.g/kg to about 100 .mu.g/kg.

[0051] It will be understood that the ssON to be used according to the invention can be administered in combination with other agents, e.g. anti-inflammatory and/or anti-pruritic agents such as calcineurin inhibitors, corticosteroids, anti-IL31, PDE-4 inhibitor, IL-4R antibody, anti-IL13, anti-IL22, anti-IL12/23, SB011 (cleaves GATA-3 mRNA) removal/inhibition of IgE, DP2 antagonist, neurokinin-1 receptor antagonist, topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory reagents such as LE032731 and GSK2894512, Clonidine, Naltrexone, 5-HT2B receptor antagonist, and/or anti-histamine treatments.

[0052] In another aspect, the invention provides a method for the treatment or prophylaxis of a disorder of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue and pruritus; said method comprising administering to a mammal, such as a human, in need of such treatment or prophylaxis an effective amount of an ssON as defined above.

[0053] In another aspect, the invention provides a pharmaceutical composition comprising an ssON as defined above, together with a pharmaceutically acceptable carrier. In a preferred aspect, the pharmaceutical composition is adapted for use in the treatment or prophylaxis of a disorder of the skin and/or subcutaneous tissue, including pruritus.

[0054] In a further aspect, the invention provides a single-stranded oligonucleotide (ssON), wherein the said ssON comprises the nucleotide sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 15 or 16; provided that the ssON does not have the sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 2.

[0055] Preferably, the said ssON comprising the nucleotide sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 15 or 16 has at least one, more preferably two, three, four or five, of the following features: [0056] (a) the length of the said ssON is between 25 and 70 nucleotides, more preferably between 25 and 35 nucleotides; [0057] (b) either (i) at least 90% (preferably 95% or 100%) of the internucleotide linkages in the said ssON are phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages; or (ii) the said ssON comprises at least four (preferably at least five or six) phosphorothioate internucleotide linkages and at least four (preferably at least five or six) 2'-O-methyl modifications; and [0058] (c) the said ssON does not contain any CpG motifs; [0059] (d) not more than 16 consecutive nucleotides in the said ssON are complementary with any human mRNA sequence; [0060] (e) the said ssON is not self-complementary.

[0061] Preferably, the said ssON comprises a nucleotide sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 12, 13, 14, or 19. More preferably, the said ssON has a nucleotide sequence shown as SEQ ID NO: 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, or 19.

Experimental Methods

Synthesis of Oligonucleotides

[0062] Synthetic, endotoxin-free, oligonucleotides were synthesized according to methods known in the art, as disclosed in e.g. Artificial DNA: Methods and Applications (Khudyakov, Y. E. & Howard A. Fields, H. A., Eds.) CRC Press, 2002 (ISBN 9780849314261). The synthesized oligonucleotides do not carry any phosphate groups on neither the 5'-terminus, nor the 3'-terminus.

Reagents

[0063] High molecular weight Poly(I:C) (InvivoGen)was used at 25 .mu.g/mL unless otherwise stated. Lipopolysaccharide (LPS; 100 ng/mL; Sigma-Aldrich) was used as a positive control for DC maturation.

Human In Vitro Derived DCs

[0064] Monocytes were negatively selected from buffy coats using the RosetteSep Monocyte Enrichment Kit.TM. (1 mL/10 mL buffy coat; StemCell Technologies) and differentiated into DC, as described previously [8] at a density of 5.times.10.sup.5 cells/mL in RPMI 1640 completed with 10% FCS, 1 mM sodium pyruvate, 10 mM HEPES, 2 mM L-glutamine, and 1% streptomycin and penicillin (all from Invitrogen Life Technologies), with GM-CSF (250 ng/mL; PeproTech) and IL-4 (6.5 ng/mL; R&D Systems) for 6 or 7 days. The cells were phenotyped with Abs against CD14, CD1a (both from DakoCytomation), CD3, and CD19 (both from BD Biosciences). Maturation was assessed 48 h post-stimulation using Abs targeting CD1a (DakoCytomation), CD80, and CD86 (both from BD Biosciences). Sample data were acquired on a FACSCalibur.TM. or Fortessa.TM. (BD Biosciences); the analysis was performed with FlowJo.TM. software (TreeStar).

Animals and Injections

[0065] Adult cynomolgus macaques (Macaca fascicularis), imported from Mauritius, were housed in CEA facilities (accreditation no. B 92-032-02) and handled in accordance with European guidelines for NHP care (EU Directive N 63/2010). The study was approved by the regional committee for animal care and use (Comite Regional d'Ethique Ile de France Sud). Animals, tested and found seronegative for several pathogens (SIV, HBV, filovirus, measles and herpes B viruses), were handled under sedation with an intramuscular (i.m.) injection of 10 mg/kg ketamine chlorhydrate (Imalgen) and 0.5 mg/kg of acepromazine (Vtranquil.TM., CEVA SANTE ANIMALE). Intradermal (i.d.) injections, via a 29 gauge needle, were done in the upper left and right back flank with 170 .mu.g of Poly(I:C) (InvivoGen) alone or with 170 .mu.g of ssON (DNA Technology A/S) in 100 .mu.L of PBS, or PBS alone. Alternatively a dose escalation with ssON was performed as indicated in figure legends.

Macaque Tissue Collection and Flow Cytometry

[0066] Cells were extracted from fresh skin biopsies (8 mm in diameter) collected from anesthetized animals 24 h after injection. Previous studies in human subjects revealed peak responses at 24 hours in the majority of individuals after inoculation of Poly(I:C) [17]. The kinetic proteome analyses of Poly(I:C) stimulated human monocyte derived DCs presented here showed peak responses 8-24 hours post-stimulation with no earlier responses detected. Later responses measured 48 hours post-stimulation of human DCs in vitro shows diminished cytokine production. Altogether, this was the rationale for choosing the 24-hour time point for biopsy collections and transcriptional analyses in the non-human primates.

[0067] The subcutaneous fat was removed and the biopsies collected for cell suspension analyses were incubated in PBS containing 4 mg/ml grade II dispase (Roche Diagnostic) and 100 .mu.g/ml of Penicillin/Streptomycin/Neomycin (Life Technologies) over night at 4.degree. C. and then for one hour at 37.degree. C. with 5% CO.sub.2. Epidermis and dermis layers were separated, the dermis were cut into small pieces, and the layers were incubated for 20 or 40 min, respectively, at 37.degree. C. with shaking in RPMI-1640 (Life Technologies) containing 2 mg/ml of collagenase D, 0.02 mg/mL DNAse I (both from Roche Diagnostic), 10 mM HEPES (Life Technologies), 5% fetal calf serum (Lonza) and 100 .mu.g/ml of Penicillin/Streptomycin/Neomycin. Cell suspensions were then filtered through a 70 .mu.m pore size filter. The residues on the filter were discarded for the epidermis while the dermal residues were mechanically dissociated through GentleMACDS.TM. dissociator (Miltenyi) and then re-filtered. Filtrates were centrifuged at 1800 rpm for 10 min before incubation with LIVE/DEAD Fixable Blue Dead Cell Stain Kit.TM. (Life Technologies), according to the manufacturer's instructions. All the isolated epidermal and dermal cells were stained with a mix of monoclonal antibodies (mAb) and acquired on a Fortessa.TM. flow cytometer (BD Biosciences). Fluorochrome-free Ab was detected with a secondary Ab coupled to an Alexa Fluor 700.TM. fluorochrome with the Zenon.RTM. Kit (InvitroGen) according to manufacturer's instructions. Data were analyzed with FlowJo.TM. software (Tree Star, version 9.6.4).

Cytokine Secretion Assays

[0068] To evaluate cytokine and chemokine production from macaque skin biopsies directly ex vivo, aliquots of filtered-dermis supernatants were collected and measured with the MILLIPLEX MAP NHP Cytokine Magnetic Bead Panel.TM. (Millipore) on a Bio-Plex.TM. device (Bio-Rad), according to manufacturer's instructions. Human DC culture supernatants collected 24 hours after in vitro stimulation were measured with custom made multiplex analyses on a MAGPIX.TM. device (Bio-Rad).

Microarray Analysis

[0069] Whole skin RNA were extracted from macaque skin biopsies, stored at least 24 h at 4.degree. C. in RNA Later, using Tissue Ruptor.RTM. followed by RNeasy Plus Universal Kit.TM. (QIAgen), according to manufacturer's instructions. Blood was collected from the macaques in Tempus.TM. Blood RNA Tube (Applied Biosystems) for whole-blood RNA isolation at baseline (day 0) and 24 h after administration of Poly(I:C) or Poly(I:C)/ssON. In brief, RNA was extracted using Tempus.TM. Spin RNA Isolation kit (Applied Biosystems) according to the manufacturer's protocol. Total RNA was quality checked on Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer.TM.. RNA quantity was measured using NanoDrop ND-1000.TM. Spectrophotometer. Cyanine-3 (Cy3) labeled cRNA was prepared from 200 ng Total RNA using the Quick Amp Labeling Kit.TM. (Agilent) according to the manufacturer's instructions, followed by RNeasy column purification.TM. (QIAGEN, Valencia, Calif.). Dye incorporation and cRNA yield were checked with the NanoDrop ND1000.TM. Spectrophotometer. 1.65 .mu.g of Cy3-labelled cRNA was fragmented at 60.degree. C. for 30 minutes in a reaction volume of 55 .mu.L containing 1.times. Agilent fragmentation buffer and 2.times. Agilent blocking agent following the manufacturer's instructions. On completion of the fragmentation reaction, 55 .mu.L of 2.times. Agilent hybridization buffer was added to the fragmentation mixture and hybridized to Agilent Rhesus Macaque Gene Expression Microarrays v2 for 17 h at 65.degree. C. in a rotating Agilent hybridization oven. After hybridization, microarrays were washed 1 min at room temperature with GE Wash Buffer 1 (Agilent) and 1 min with 37.degree. C. GE Wash buffer 2 (Agilent). Slides were scanned immediately after washing on the Agilent DNA Microarray Scanner.TM. (G2505C) using one color scan setting for 4.times.44K array slides (Scan Area 61.times.21.6 mm, Scan resolution 5 um, Dye channel is set to Green, PMT is set to 100%). The scanned images were analyzed with Feature Extraction Software 10.7.3.1.TM. (Agilent) using default parameters to obtain background subtracted and spatially detrended Processed Signal intensities. The signals were background correction by the RMA method and quintile-normalized. Prior to generating heat maps, loge transformation was applied on the gene expression data.

[0070] For both protein and RNA-data, matching of regulated molecule subsets was performed against known interferon-related genes [17] and to 84 key genes related to NF-.kappa.B-mediated signal transduction (The Human NF-.kappa.B Signaling Pathway RT.sup.2 Profiler PCR Array, Qiagen.com).

Pathway Analysis

[0071] Ingenuity Pathway Analysis.TM. software (Ingenuity Systems) was used to identify canonical signaling pathways regulated by Poly(I:C) alone or in combination with ssON. For calculation of significance of enrichment (Fisher's exact test performed within the software) reference dataset used was Agilent Rhesus Macaque Gene Expression Microarrays v2.

Statistical Analysis

[0072] Statistical analyses were performed with Prism 5.0.TM. (Graph-Pad Software Inc.) using nonparametric Kruskal-Wallis unpaired test followed by Dunn's post-test (*P<0.05, **P<0.01 and ***P<0.001) or one-way Anova. When indicated different treatment groups were compared using non-parametric Mann-Whitney unpaired tests.

EXAMPLES

Example 1

SsON Inhibits DC Maturation and Pro-Inflammatory Cytokine Responses In Vitro

[0073] It was shown that immature DC up-regulated the co-stimulatory molecules CD80 and CD86, as well as the maturation marker CD83, after stimulation with the dsRNA mimic Poly(I:C) (FIG. 1A). The dsRNA-induced maturation was significantly inhibited in the presence of the 35-mer ssON designated "nonCpG 35 PS" (Table II) (p<0.0001) (FIG. 1A). The ssON "nonCpG 35 PS" contained phosphorothioate (PS) modifications, which have been used to increase half-life of ssONs [18].

[0074] SsON was titrated on human monocyte derived DCs activated with Poly(I:C) (FIG. 1B). Flow cytometry was used to measure expression of the co-stimulatory molecules CD80 and CD86. Bio-Plex.TM. analysis was used to quantify cytokines released in the supernatants. Poly(I:C) induced significant DC maturation, as defined by up-regulation of the co-stimulatory molecules CD80 and CD86 (FIG. 1B) and pro-inflammatory cytokine release (IL-6, IP-10 and IL1ra) (FIG. 1C). There was a dose-dependent inhibition of dsRNA-mediated DC maturation and pro-inflammatory cytokine release by the ssON with an IC.sub.50 of approximately 0.2 .mu.M.

Example 2

Intradermal Injection of ssON Modulates Local Cellular Infiltration in Non-Human Primates

[0075] To assess local inflammation induced after intradermal injection of Poly(I:C) in cynomolgus macaques, skin biopsies were collected from the injection sites twenty-four hours after injection. Multicolor flow cytometry was used to phenotype cells isolated from epidermal and dermal layers.

[0076] In the epidermis, three main leukocyte populations were identified. Langerhans Cells (LC) expressed CD45 and high levels of HLA-DR as well as CD1a. CD45.sup.+ cells expressing HLA-DR but not CD1a were denoted antigen-presenting cells (APC). Polymorphonuclear cells (PMN) including neutrophils, eosinophils and basophils, were defined by their CD45.sup.+ CD66.sup.+ phenotype [19]. PMNs were mostly absent at the PBS control site. However, a significant influx of PMN and APC was detected after Poly(I:C) injection, and there was a clear trend of increased LC numbers (FIG. 2A). There was a significant infiltration of PMN after simultaneous injection of ssON and Poly(I:C) (p<0.005) (FIG. 2A, upper panel). However, there were significantly fewer APC present in the epidermis after Poly(I:C)/ssON treatment compared with Poly(I:C) alone (FIG. 2A, middle panel) and a similar trend was observed for the LC population (FIG. 2A, lower panel). The used ssON was "nonCpG 35 PS" (Table II).

[0077] In the dermis, additional immune cell populations were identified through their differential expression of four supplementary surface markers (CD11c, CD163, CD123, CD14) (Zaba, L.C. et al. 2007. The Journal of clinical investigation 117:2517-2525; Klechevsky, E. et al. 2008. Immunity 29:497-510). As detected in the epidermis, Poly(I:C) injection provoked a significant recruitment of PMN which was strengthened in the presence of ssON (FIG. 2B). Two different PMN populations were detected, one expressing high levels of CD66 (FIG. 2B, top panel) and the other showed an intermediate expression level of CD66 (FIG. 2B, lower panel).

[0078] Macrophages, as defined by expression of CD45.sup.+ CD11c.sup.lowHLA-DR.sup.+ CD14.sup.+, were almost absent in control biopsies (PBS injection), and accumulated when Poly(I:C) was administered alone, while addition of ssON resulted in lower influx. Finally, CD1a.sup.+ and CD14.sup.+ dermal DC, both subsets defined by additional expression of CD45.sup.+ CD11.sup.+ HLA-DR.sup.+, were recovered from control biopsies and seemed to disappear after intradermal injections with either Poly(I:C) or Poly(I:C)/ssON (FIG. 2C). Importantly, the quantity of cells collected was dependent on the treatment because very few if any CD45.sup.+ CD66.sup.+ PMNs were found at the PBS control site.

[0079] In summary, PMNs are considered to be a typical inflammatory cell population. Hence, the phenotype of the infiltrating PMNs after ssON administration would suggest recruitment of "inflammatory cells" to the site of injection. It was consequently surprising that ssONs, without any CpG motifs, are null to the immune system or only possess "anti-inflammatory" signatures.

Example 3

Transcriptional Profiling

[0080] To assess the global innate response to Poly(I:C) in the presence or absence of ssON, whole transcriptional profiling was performed on whole blood samples and skin biopsies obtained from macaques as described under "Experimental Methods". The majority of top 50 responsive genes (FC range 3.5-22; p<0.05) detected in blood twenty-four hours after intradermal injection with Poly(I:C) were either IFN-regulated genes or associated with NF-.kappa.B activation confirming response patterns previously reported in blood from human subjects [17]. No significant differential expression was detected in blood in the group that received Poly(I:C) and ssON ("nonCpG 35 PS"; Table II) relative to baseline (15% FDR).

[0081] The expression profiles of the skin biopsies displayed an even more robust and high induction of innate immune response genes also reflecting influx of cells. Many of the top 50 induced genes in the skin were, similarly, IFN-regulated genes with a FC range of 29-1870 at 5% FDR after Poly(I:C) injection and a FC range of 28-929 at 5% FDR after Poly(I:C)/ssON co-administration. To get more insight as to which genes were differentially down-regulated in the skin by the addition of ssON, the fold change between the treatment group receiving intradermal injection with Poly(I:C) in combination with ssON and the group receiving only Poly(I:C) was calculated. The top down-regulated genes (negative FC>2 p<0.05) after addition of ssON (Table I) include chemokines and genes implicated in inflammatory conditions.

[0082] To detect molecular signatures within a set of genes which are co-expressed or co-regulated, canonical pathway analysis was performed using the Ingenuity Pathway Analysis.TM. software. Several pathways for innate immunity such as "Communication between innate and adaptive immune cells", "Crosstalk between dendritic cells and natural killer cells" and "TREM1 Signaling" were engaged and includes induction of pro-inflammatory cytokines and interferon signaling, consistent with the molecular signatures discovered in the proteomic profiling of dendritic cells. In addition, Poly(I:C) stimulated DC maturation in concordance with the flow cytometry data obtained.

[0083] The top 50 regulated genes after stimulation with either Poly(I:C) or Poly(I:C)/ssON were listed in heat maps. From inspecting these lists, it became apparent that several chemokines were differentially induced after addition of ssON. Poly(I:C) treatment resulted in significant induction of Ccl5, Cxcl9, Cxcl10 (FIG. 3A), as well as Cxcl11 and Ccl11 (FIG. 3B), in agreement with recruitment of cells to the skin (cf. Example 2). The induction of chemokines was modulated by ssON, showing reduced expression of Ccl5, Cxcl9, Cxcl10, Cxcl11 and a further increase of Ccl11 expression [20], consistent with increased influx of PMNs, in animals receiving combined Poly(I:C)/ssON treatment. Furthermore, injection of dsRNA resulted in significant increase of Icam1 expression, while the simultaneous treatment with Poly(I:C)/ssON, led to lower expression of Icam1 (FIG. 3B).

[0084] Another set of genes among the top regulated genes were the immunoglobulin-like transcript receptors (ILT) [21, 22]. The ILTs are highly expressed on monocytes, macrophages and dendritic cells where they can inhibit TLR-mediated responses and modulate adaptive responses [23-25]. ILT6 (also named LILRA3) was proposed to be a soluble anti-inflammatory protein that is up-regulated by IL-10 and down-regulated by TNF-.alpha.. Increased expression of Ilt5 and Ilt6 after intradermal injection of Poly(I:C), as well as a clear trend of an even higher expression after Poly(I:C)/ssON treatment, were shown (FIG. 3C). A similar up-regulation following ssON treatment was detected for Siglec 5, which is another inhibitory receptor on phagocytes [26].

[0085] It was further observed that several antimicrobial genes showed relative higher expression after combined Poly(I:C) and ssON treatment as compared with Poly(I:C) alone, such as alpha-defensin 1A (MNP1A) and demidefensin (RTDB1) (29). Also ectodysplasin A (EDA), belonging to the TNF family (30) showed relative higher expression after combined Poly(I:C) and ssON treatment, as compared with Poly(I:C) alone (FIG. 3D).

[0086] In summary, the transcriptional analyses revealed a complex unexpected immunomodulatory signature. The addition of ssON resulted in selective inhibition of pro-inflammatory responses such as IL-6, IFN-gamma, CCL5, CXCL9, CXCL10 (also known as IP-10) and CXCL11. However, ssON treatment in the skin induced CCL11 and antibacterial peptides.

Example 4

SsON Reduces Poly(I:C)-Induced Pro-Inflammatory Cytokines and Induces IL-10 Secretion

[0087] Further analysis of the molecules listed in Table I showed that Rax (the cellular activator of interferon-induced, double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase; PKR) as well as genes implicated in inflammatory conditions such as Lrg1 and Lcn2 were significantly reduced after Poly(I:C)/ssON treatment, further adding support for ssON-mediated a dampening of inflammation (FIG. 4A). Poly(I:C) induced pro-inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6, IFN-.gamma. and IL12p40 (FIG. 4B). However, the addition of ssON ("nonCpG 35 PS"; Table II) dampened the pro-inflammatory response, including IFN-.gamma. which is known to regulate many chemokines [27].

[0088] To validate whether cytokine secretion was induced in the skin, aliquots of filtered-dermis supernatants were collected and, without additional stimulation in vitro, analyzed using Bio-Plex.TM. analyses (FIG. 5). Significant (p<0.005) induction of IL-6 and IFN-.gamma. was detected after Poly(I:C) treatment. There was a clear trend that addition of ssON decreased IL-6 and IFN-.gamma. production and instead provoked significant IL-10 release. Notably, ssON alone could induce dose-dependent IL-10 secretion in vivo (FIG. 5, lower right-hand panel).

[0089] To summarize Examples 1-4, transcriptional profiling of skin biopsies revealed ssON-dependent selective dampening of dsRNA-induced pro-inflammatory responses in macaques. The ssON-modulated cytokine pattern was confirmed by protein analyses directly ex vivo from skin biopsies and revealed induction of IL-10 and inhibition of IL-6 secretion. These data demonstrate that treatment with the ssON can dampen dsRNA-induced inflammation in macaques. Moreover, the data unexpectedly show induction of IL-10 and anti-bacterial peptides after administration of ssON even without any induction of inflammation.

Example 5

Introduction of Non-Natural Linkages and Modified Nucleosides in ssONs

[0090] As shown in Example 1, the 35-mer ssON denoted "nonCpG 35 PS" (SEQ ID NO: 2; Table II) with fully substituted phosphorothioate (PS) backbone, could block Poly(I:C) induced maturation of DC in a concentration dependent manner. DC maturation was monitored by measuring expression of the co-stimulatory molecules CD86 and CD80 (FIG. 1B).

[0091] While Fully PS-substituted ssON ("nonCpG 35 PS") can block Poly(I:C) induced maturation of human monocyte-derived DCs, natural ssON with a phosphate (PO) backbone ("nonCpG 35 DNA") lost the inhibitory effect (FIG. 6). SsON efficacy was measured by monitoring the expression of DC differentiation markers CD86, CD83 and CD80.

[0092] A 35-mer ssON with three PS linkages at the 3'- and 5'-termini ("3ePS") also lacked inhibitory effect, suggesting that the PS backbone is essential for retained inhibitory effect. However, by further stabilizing the ssON by introduction of the RNA analogue 2'-O-methyl (2'OMe) in the three terminal bases ("3eOMe"), the inhibitory effect was partly restored (FIG. 6).

[0093] A PS-substituted ssON wherein all the G bases were replaced by A ("GtA") only slightly lost efficacy, showing that the sequence of fully PS-substituted ssON does not seem to influence the inhibition to a higher extent (FIG. 6).

[0094] In experiments with different 35-mer ssONs (0.2 .mu.M; Table III), it was shown that A- and T-rich PS-ssONs displayed inhibitory effects on Poly(I:C) induced effects (up-regulation of the co-stimulatory molecules CD86 and CD83), while C- and G-rich PS-ssONs failed to have these effects (FIG. 7).

[0095] The inhibitory effects on Poly(I:C) responses by ssONs which are fully modified with 2'-O-methyl (2'OMe) groups were investigated. 2'-O-methylation is a common nucleoside modification of RNA, where a methyl group is added to the 2' hydroxyl group of the ribose moiety of a nucleoside. The ssONs had either a phosphorothioate backbone ("nonCpG 2'OMe PS"; Table II) or a phosphodiester backbone ("nonCpG 2'OMe PO"; Table II). It was shown (FIG. 8) that 2'OMe could inhibit DC maturation in the same fashion as DNA if the oligonucleotide backbone was stabilized by PS linkage. A native PO backbone was less stable and the inhibitory effect was not retained.

[0096] The effects of increasing amounts of complementary dsDNA ("nonCpG 35 DNA complementary", see Table II) on DC maturation were investigated. It was shown that dsDNA (in contrast to ssONs) does not inhibit DC maturation. Instead, addition of complementary DNA strand (increased dsDNA formation) decreased the ssON-induced inhibition of Poly(I:C) effects (FIG. 9).

Example 6

Oligonucleotide Structures

[0097] The ssONs shown in Table V were prepared as described in e.g. Current Protocols in Nucleic Acid Chemistry (Wiley Online Library).

[0098] The inhibitory effect seems to be independent of ssON sequence. When comparing three different ssON sequences: ssON 35 PS (SEQ ID NO: 2), ssON GtA PS (SEQ ID NO: 3), and ssON Compl PS (SEQ ID NO: 5) (Table V) they all display the same inhibitory effect after 48 h in monocyte-derived DCs treated with Poly(I:C) (FIG. 10). SsON GtA is based on the parent sequence ssON 35 (SEQ ID NO: 2), but all the guanosine (G) bases have been substituted to adenosine (A), while ssON Compl is the complementary sequence to ssON 35. The three ssONs are all 35 bases long, and have a fully PS substituted backbone. Furthermore, a random substitution of G to A at position 29 (SEQ ID NO: 19) display a similar effective inhibition of CD80 and CD86 expression in DCs as parent ssON 35 (SEQ ID NO: 2) (FIG. 11). Although sequence independent, we unexpectedly revealed a defined length-dependent requirement for inhibition of CD86 expression on DCs and release of IL-6 (FIG. 12). The shorter 30 and 25 ssONs (SEQ ID NO: 13 and 15) display similar inhibitory effect as the 35 ssON (SEQ ID NO: 2), while there was a marked reduced efficacy using 20 ssON (SEQ ID NO: 17), or 15 ssON (SEQ ID NO: 20).

Example 7

Animal Pruritus Model

[0099] Pruritic or itch responses are triggered by activation of sensory receptors expressed on primary afferents by the release of itch-inducing agents. The capacity of ssONs to influence itch in murine models recording number of scratching episodes/h is evaluated using a digital camera. Hence both the intensity and the duration of itch are measured by an observer blind to the treatment, using AniTracker.TM. version 1.0, a software tool for analysis of animal behavior in life science.

[0100] The effect of ssONs on histaminergic/PLC.beta.3-induced itch is evaluated after intradermal inoculation with (a) histamine; (b) Compound 48/80, a compound that promotes histamine release; and/or (c) .alpha.-5HT (also known as .alpha.-methylserotonin); which are known to be pruritogenic.

[0101] Further, the effect of ssONs on Poly(I:C)-induced itch, and other non-histaminergic itch induced by (a) endothelin-1, which induces itch in humans and in animal models; (b) BAM(8-22) (bovine adrenal medulla 8-22 peptide, a proteolytically cleaved product of proenkephalin A) which is a potent activator of Mas-related G protein-coupled receptors (Mrgprs), MrgprC11 and hMrgprX1, and induces scratching in mice in a Mrgpr-dependent manner; (c) chloroquine, which is known to induce pruritus; and/or (d) SLIGRL, an agonist peptide derived from the N-terminus of protease-activated receptor-2 (PAR2) [14, 15]; is evaluated.

TABLE-US-00001 TABLE I Top down-regulated transcripts in macaque skin after addition of ssON in vivo. FC corr_p(BH) Gene Poly(I:C)/ssON Poly(I:C)/ssON name Ratio vs Poly(I:C) P vs Poly(I:C) CCL5 0.30 -3.32 0.003 0.999 CXCL9 0.31 -3.23 0.007 0.999 AQP4 0.31 -3.19 0.013 0.999 LRG1 0.37 -2.69 0.017 0.999 AADAC 0.39 -2.59 0.049 0.999 UBD 0.39 -2.59 0.016 0.999 RAX 0.39 -2.55 0.014 0.999 IL6 0.39 -2.55 0.040 0.999 XIRP1 0.40 -2.48 0.041 0.999 FMO3 0.43 -2.35 0.006 0.999 IL2RA 0.44 -2.30 0.009 0.999 LCN2 0.44 -2.28 0.034 0.999 RFX6 0.44 -2.27 0.011 0.999 PRSS2 0.47 -2.15 0.029 0.999 C1QC 0.48 -2.10 0.021 0.999 CRABP1 0.48 -2.09 0.002 0.999 WARS 0.48 -2.09 0.028 0.999 ICAM1 0.48 -2.09 0.044 0.999 CXCL11 0.48 -2.06 0.013 0.999 CYP11B1 0.50 -2.01 0.011 0.999

TABLE-US-00002 TABLE II Structure of oligonucleotides. All sequences are written 5' to 3'. Asterisks (*) indicate phosphorothioate linkages. Underlined letters indicate 2'-O-methyl ribose modifications; all other nucleotides are deoxynucleotides. Name Sequence Length nonCpG 35 DNA GAAGTTTTGAGGTTTTGAAGTTGTTGGTGGTGGTG 35 (SEQ ID NO: 2) nonCpG 35 PS G*A*A*G*T*T*T*T*G*A*G*G*T*T*T*T*G*A*A*G*T*T* 35 (SEQ ID NO: 2) G*T*T*G*G*T*G*G*T*G*G*T*G 3ePS G*A*A*GTTTTGAGGTTTTGAAGTTGTTGGTGGTG*G*T*G 35 (SEQ ID NO: 2) 3cOMe G*A*A*GTTTTGAGGTTTTGAAGTTGTTGGTGGTG*G*T*G 35 (SEQ ID NO: 2) GtA A*A*A*A*T*T*T*T*A*A*A*A*T*T*T*T*A*A*A*A*T*T* 35 (SEQ ID NO: 3) A*T*T*A*A*T*A*A*T*A*A*T*A nonCpG 15 DNA GGTTTTGAAGTTGTT 15 (SEQ ID NO: 4) nonCpG 15 PS G*G*T*T*T*T*G*A*A*G*T*T*G*T*T 15 (SEQ ID NO: 4) nonCpG 35 DNA CACCACCACCAACAACTTCAAAACCTCAAAACTTC 35 complementary (SEQ ID NO: 5) nonCpG 2'OMe G*A*A*G*T*T*T*T*G*A*G*G*T*T*T*T*G*A*A*G*T*T* 35 PS G*T*T*G*G*T*G*G*T*G*G*T*G (SEQ ID NO: 2) nonCpG 2'OMe GAAGTTTTGACGTTTTGAAGTTGTTGGTGGTGGTG 35 PO (SEQ ID NO: 2)

TABLE-US-00003 TABLE III Structure of oligonucleotides. All sequences are written 5' to 3'. Asterisks (*) indicate phosphorothioate linkages. All nucleotides are deoxynucleotides. Name Sequence Length A-rich PO AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA 35 (SEQ ID NO: 6) T-rich PO TTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT 35 (SEQ ID NO: 7) C-rich PO CCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCC 35 (SEQ ID NO: 8) G-rich PO GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG 35 (SEQ ID NO: 9) A-rich PS A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A* 35 (SEQ ID NO: 6) A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A*A T-rich PS T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T* 35 (SEQ ID NO: 7) T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T*T C-rich PS C*C*C*C*T*C*C*C*C*T*C*C*C*C*T*C*C*C*C*T*C* 35 (SEQ ID NO: 10) C*C*C*T*C*C*C*C*T*C*C*C*C*T G-rich PS G*G*G*A*A*G*G*G*A*A*G*G*G*A*A*G*G*G*A*A*G* 35 (SEQ ID NO: 11) G*G*A*A*G*G*G*A*A*G*G*G*A*A

TABLE-US-00004 TABLE IV Structure of oligonucleotides. All sequences are written 5' to 3'. All oligonucleotides are fully phosphorothioated and consists of deoxynucleotides. Name Sequence Length (SEQ ID NO: 12) GAAGTTTTGAGGTTTTGAAGTTATTGGTGGTGGTG 35 (SEQ ID NO: 13) AGTTTTGAGGTTTTGAAGTTGTTGGTGGTG 30 (SEQ ID NO: 14) AGTTTTGAGGTTTTGAAGTTATTGGTGGTG 30 (SEQ ID NO: 15) TTTGAGGTTTTGAAGTTGTTGGTGG 25 (SEQ ID NO: 16) TTTGAGGTTTTGAAGTTATTGGTGG 25 (SEQ ID NO: 17) TGAGGTTTTGAAGTTGTTGG 20 (SEQ ID NO: 18) TGAGGTTTTGAAGTTATTGG 20 (SEQ ID NO: 19) GAAGTTTTGAGGTTTTGAAGTTGTTGGTAGTGGTG 35 (SEQ ID NO: 20) GGTTTTGAAGTTGTT 15

TABLE-US-00005 TABLE V Explanation of ssONs used in Example 6. All oligonucleotides are fully phosphorothioated and consists of deoxynucleotides. Name in FIGS. 10-12 Name in Tables II and III SEQ ID NO: ssON nonCpG 35 PS 2 ssON compl nonCpG 35 DNA complementary 5 ssON GtA GtA 3 ssON G29A -- 19 ssON 15 -- 20 ssON 20 -- 17 ssON 25 -- 15 ssON 30 -- 13 ssON 35 nonCpG 35 PS 2

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Sequence CWU 1

1

20135DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 1gtcgttttgt cgttttgtcg ttgttggtgg tggtg 35235DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 2gaagttttga ggttttgaag ttgttggtgg tggtg 35335DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 3aaaattttaa aattttaaaa ttattaataa taata 35415DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 4ggttttgaag ttgtt 15535DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 5caccaccacc aacaacttca aaacctcaaa acttc 35635DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 6aaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaaaa aaaaa 35735DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 7tttttttttt tttttttttt tttttttttt ttttt 35835DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 8cccccccccc cccccccccc cccccccccc ccccc 35935DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 9gggggggggg gggggggggg gggggggggg ggggg 351035DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 10cccctcccct cccctcccct cccctcccct cccct 351135DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 11gggaagggaa gggaagggaa gggaagggaa gggaa 351235DNAArtificial SequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 12gaagttttga ggttttgaag ttattggtgg tggtg 351330DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 13agttttgagg ttttgaagtt gttggtggtg 301430DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 14agttttgagg ttttgaagtt attggtggtg 301525DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 15tttgaggttt tgaagttgtt ggtgg 251625DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 16tttgaggttt tgaagttatt ggtgg 251720DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 17tgaggttttg aagttgttgg 201820DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 18tgaggttttg aagttattgg 201935DNAArtificial SequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 19gaagttttga ggttttgaag ttgttggtag tggtg 352015DNAArtificial sequenceSynthetic oligonucleotide 20ggttttgaag ttgtt 15

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